One week down, seven to go

Indian Premier League: A necessary evil...


Nothing succeeds like success. Nothing succeeds like sleaze, either. And the IPL has had its fair share of both in the past seasons. The first edition had Lalit Modi signing autographs - the defining, nausea-inducing image from the inaugural hoopla - and Harbhajan Singh's slapgate.

The sophomore season pitted the IPL's fiscal might against the all-powerful machinery of the Government, as it prioritised the general elections over providing security to the hit and giggle league. The reactionary move - en masse - of the tournament to South Africa turned out to be huge success, as also a model study in sound logistics.

If that wasn't enough to pique interest, in came the Fake IPL Player with his inside - and vulgarised and entertaining - takes on dressing room politics within that most unfortunate of all franchises, the Shahrukh Khan-owned Kolkata Knight Riders.

Then arrived the Modi fiasco, as the mastermind behind the mania was charged with, among other things, impropriety and sacked as IPL Commissioner. All this after Modi had engaged in a very public mud-slinging session with another publicity hound - Shashi Tharoor - over the ownership of Kochi Tuskers Kerala.

These constant internal conflicts sustained, in a manner most distorted, the interest initially generated by the USP of the IPL - watching international stars conduct battle with and against home players in a condensed format tailored to diminishing attention spans.

Four seasons have passed since Brendon McCullum lit up the night with a merciless hundred in the opening match and this year the tournament, possibly for the first time, is struggling for viewership, despite all the usual catches and hooks in place.

Figures have indicated that cumulative viewership for the first week is down as compared to corresponding figures from the previous seasons. Already matches and results have merged into a big blur. Who played where, defeated whom, missed which flight and got on whose nerves - all questions the answers to which, if anybody is interested, are a click away.

What remains painfully embedded in memory are bizarre pieces of the mosaic: Nita Ambani beaming plastically at Rohit Sharma's last-over carnage;  Ambani junior - all 100-odd kilos of him - sprawled majestically on a specially-placed (and specially reinforced?) blue couch in the dugout; Sachin Tendulkar's weird-ass hairdo; Harbhajan's and Munaf's unpleasant run in with the umpire.

Imagine the amount of unwanted imagery the days remaining will generate. The tournament is tenuous, protracted and painful - the last especially if one's livelihood depends on it - and only those who have no direct stake in it are unmindful of its inordinate length.

These mostly comprise (and a fair bit of profiling is at work here) right-wing hardliners with tribalistic tendecies coursing through their veins - the flag-waving, chair-hurling kind who perpetually vacillate between extreme emotional states, the sainthood-for-winners-death-to-losers brigade.

Which is not saying the current tournament has been entirely lacking in entertainment - there have been a few sights to cherish.

Dale Steyn's awe-inspiring over to South Africa teammate Richard Levi, displaying his "entire repertoire" within the space of six deliveries as he cramped, lured, bombarded and speared the clueless batsman into submission; Tendulkar's indescribable cover-drive for six, a spur-of-the-moment improvisation that turned a borderline mis-hit into a memorable strike;  Ajinkya Rahane's whirlwind 98 - a timely reminder to selectors with an eye on the impending T20 World Cup?

An event of such length is likely to produce spasms of memorabilia. And there's still a long way to go. Who knows what twists await, lending jobless scribes a peg to lean on in times of dire want? Maybe, a month hence, Tendulkar will have returned to his close crop and Sourav Ganguly led Pune Warriors all the way to the trophy? Hell, we might even get to see Rahul Dravid sign off with a T20 hundred.

Actually, strike that last one out - even Dravid wouldn't count on that happening.

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